For some inexplicable reason Rupert Wyatt wanted Mark Wahlberg to lose 60 pounds to play an English literature professor and degenerate gambler. I’ve known a few of both and don’t think any of them were the gaunt-looking 137 pounds Wahlberg is in “The Gambler.” Instead, he looks like a southside Philly version of Mick Jagger in the remake of a 1974 film that starred James Caan.

Caan’s Axel Freed was tiny as well in the earlier version, but was fit and strong looking, shadow boxing in one scene and playing one-on-one in the schoolyard in another. Wahlberg’s Jim Bennett looks to be living on coffee and amphetamines.   Some call the ‘74 version a classic, somehow justifying why a remake of this story was necessary. Not remembering the film I watched it on Amazon.

Caan was at the height of his game at the time but was too wooden in his portrayal of someone supposedly gripped by the gambling bug.  Axel’s girlfriend Billie was played by Lauren Hutton who, of course, looked classic, but wasn’t believable as the girlfriend of an addict. “Don’t tell me you lost it gambling?” Ho Hum.

It’s hard to say who is more believable in the classroom.  “Forget losing the weight,” says Wahlberg. “Being believable as a teacher was one of my greatest challenges and most rewarding. It meant being able to have the comfort to really understand and say those words…”

The lecture scenes were sparse in both movies which is too bad. Professor Bennett goes on a rant about mediocrity that tells us a lot about the main character and why he does what he does in his off hours. Freed’s lecture is more about literature but includes a insightful bit about 2+2=4 being boring. When basketball players shoot from outside their range they’re hoping on that particular day 2+2 might just be 5, making players like poets.

Inflation has had its way with our perception of what big money is. Freed’s $2,000 bets and $44,000 debt seem pedestrian 40 years later.  Wyatt bumped Bennett’s bets to $20,000 with doubling up from there. His quarter million in debt is daunting but believable. The payoff to the player throwing a game takes the biggest leap from $5,000 to $150,000.

A trip to the bank to withdraw cash was different 40 years ago. An employee actually counts out 25 grand at the teller window at one bank for Axel’s mother. And the desperate gambler roughs up a bank office to get cash at another (that never works, by the way).

Today’s world of Patriot Act and Dodd-Frank banking rules was played out in the new version with multiple forms of ID being required at a bank officer’s desk.

Watching the ‘74 version reminded me of how far we’ve come.  We forget it was inconvenient to get sports information in the mid-70’s. Axel skids to a stop in front of a roadside payphone to call his bookie. He sits at a bar in Vegas waiting for an announcer on TV to provide scores. He listens to the Laker game on a radio while taking a bath (trying to fool Billie) and checks scores on a portable radio in a movie theatre.  It’s so much easier to be a sports gambling junkie these days.

A scene where Bennett hears halftime scores and assumes he’s won is laughable when the bookies show up to collect their money after he lost.  But it reminded me of Pete Axthelm’s great line, “The goddess of wagering saves her wrath for those who count their money at the half.”

When questioned about how much they are betting, both Freed and Bennett use a version of the line “are you my dealer or my investment counselor.” Both movies use a scene (playing blackjack) where the gamblers double down on 18 (yes 18) and, of course, draw a 3. Meanwhile, the basketball players portrayed in the teachers’ classes are very different. Freed’s student is outspoken and often engages with Freed. Bennett’s player, true to modern form, is constantly texting.

One of the movies has a surprising, uncomfortable ending. With the other, all conflicts are resolved and tied up with a nice, neat bow.

Which is which? As Axel says, the thrill is in the uncertainty. Both are worth seeing, neither is a sure bet. One makes you feel good at the end, the other…not so much.